Thursday, December 27, 2012

A State of Mind: On Being a Black Belt

Most people who know my husband and I know that we both earned black belts in a martial art. While I am incredibly proud of the work that we did to achieve this goal it makes me equally as uncomfortable to talk about it with new people we meet. Inevitably I will hear


  1. Who outranks who?
  2. Who would win in a fight?
  3. Who HAS won the fights?
  4. Can you show me some moves? What would you do if I grabbed your arm RIGHT NOW?!
  5. Wow! We won't mess with you guys.


So let's clarify.


  1. We are the same rank. Hubs will surpass me someday as he has the desire to continue training and currently I do not.
  2. Hubs. But I'd put up a good fight. And honestly, I'm so out of practice that I'd have to resort to dirty tactics. In the street, that'd be fine though.
  3. I don't keep tabs.
  4. Ah. Well you see, that depends. Do I like you? If you're a big tough guy looking to inflate his ego by grabbing my arm so hard that your veins pop (this has totally happened) then you're escalating the situation to where I would have to A) hurt you or B) do something that might hurt me because you're an idiot or C) perform Jedi mind tricks on you. None of these things excite me as much as they excite you. Also, knowing someone has a black belt is not an open invitation to touch that person without his or her permission. Social and personal spaces still apply.
  5. I think the last statement bothers me the most. Really? First, would you have messed with me if I didn't have a black belt in a martial art? Second, do you think I go around saying "I'm going to totally bloody your face if you don't agree with me or do my bidding?" Bollocks. Totally.

Ok another thing... Let's say someone you know with a black belt makes a Facebook or Twitter update to the effect of "Someone totally ruined my day by " and then you see someone else comment "What an idiot! Good thing he didn't know who he was messing with!" or "I thought that person knew you?! You could totally take him so he's a fool for stepping on your foot."

This? Silly. While I (or other black belts) thank you kindly for your friendship and support, I don't go around saying "I'm going to totally bloody your face if you don't agree with me or do my bidding." It would also be really, really, really egotistical of me to assume and then assert my "betterness" over another (which I am not) just because I might, if life-threateningly necessary, be able to break him six ways from Sunday. I personally don't go around categorizing people I meet in to "I could kick his ass, or not" files. Sometimes that is a fun mental game. Most times it is a waste of thought. I think most black belts would agree with me too. To us being a black belt is a state of mind, not primarily a physical accomplishment. However, there still might be a few out there who don't agree, who like to assert their pummeling skillz over others. Perhaps those martial artists have more training to do, to feel comfortable in their own skin. I don't know. They confuse me.

So. There you have it. It is pretty cool what martial artists do, have done, and will continue to do. It's a great conversation topic in the right situation, with the right people. I'm happy to share too. But I am not currently doing any physical martial art training and I'm really rusty. I would rather have a conversation with you about the philosophies of martial arts and the things I have learned about myself and others along the way. The ego puffing and bruisings are the least important parts of the story.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

There is a movement going on in America right now, heck maybe even the world, to perform 26 random acts of kindness to honor the lives of the 20 children and 6 adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week. I am going to participate in this. I am horrified by what happened. I can barely breathe when I think of those sweet children, and the brave teachers who lost their lives that day. Their faces are burned in to my memory as I have read article after article, viewed photo after photo.

I will not forget them.

I will not forget that day, where I was, what I felt, how I heard, what I did after.

I will not forget them.

There is also an outcry for a serious national conversation about mental health.

We all know someone with a mental health issue. We do. YOU do.

So let's talk.

Ten years ago on December 16, 2002 my friend Noel took his own life on his 38th birthday. He suffered from serious depression after a personal tragedy years earlier. But despite therapy, and so much love from family and friends, he lost his battle. It still hurts to think about. It still hurts to talk about.

I also worked with a man who was newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was young and naive and had no idea how to handle the mood swings, darkest lows, and shining highs. It was Noel who reached across the table in a sales meeting one day, put his hand on my arm, seeing that I was fighting tears from one of the tirades that had been directed at me, and said "Please forgive him Colleen. He doesn't know what he's saying or doing."

And I was angry. There I was fighting back tears, mortified by the comments over my physical appearance and comments about my upcoming wedding, and I was being asked to forgive that person on the spot without any understanding about what was going on. But Noel understood. Noel knew and finally told me. Truth-be-told knowing of this man's diagnosis didn't make it much easier to deal with because I didn't understand it. I'd never heard of bipolar disorder. No one talked about bipolar disorder.

Nearly eleven years later people still aren't talking about it much.

But after Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT, people say we need to talk.

So I am going to put this out there. Let's not just perform 26 random acts of kindness. Let's do more. Let's add two more.

Let's add one for Nancy Lanza. His mom, who also died by his hand. She didn't ask for this. She didn't raise him to become that. She suffered the side effects of loving someone with a mental health disorder for years. She suffered. She deserves to be remembered. There are moms out there today who are struggling, suffering in silence about their child. Do one for the mothers.

Let's add one for Adam Lanza.  If we are going to be serious about talking about mental health than we need to reach more people with kindness. It could be that your 28th random act of kindness is the ONE person who needs it more than any of the previous 27. Let's notice more people, be kind to more people. Let's not live in fear (and don't get me wrong, I am afraid), but rather in kindness. Let's be serious about the conversation that needs to happen.

Let's do 28. I will do 28.

No. I will do 30.

I will do one for my friend Noel - who I honor every year on his birthday by telling a new really lame blonde joke, his favorite kind. And I will do one for my former bipolar co-worker who I am still not sure if I understand, or could be comfortable around. But I will do one for him too to show compassion, to show I am serious that we need to discuss mental health.

So please do 28, and consider adding an extra for that person in your life who you know. You DO know someone with a mental health problem. Do one for that person. Just because.

Compassion. Kindness. Understanding. Patience. It will be hard. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. This has to be a better way.

I will remember them.

26. +2. +2. I am doing 30. What will you do?